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Correlation of Population SARS-CoV-2 Cycle Threshold Values to Local Disease Dynamics: Exploratory Observational Study

ABSTRACT

Background:

Despite the limitations in the use of cycle threshold (CT) values for individual patient care, population distributions of CT values may be useful indicators of local outbreaks.

Objective:

We aimed to conduct an exploratory analysis of potential correlations between the population distribution of cycle threshold (CT) values and COVID-19 dynamics, which were operationalized as percent positivity, transmission rate (Rt), and COVID-19 hospitalization count.

Methods:

In total, 148,410 specimens collected between September 15, 2020, and January 11, 2021, from the greater El Paso area were processed in the Dascena COVID-19 Laboratory. The daily median CT value, daily Rt, daily count of COVID-19 hospitalizations, daily change in percent positivity, and rolling averages of these features were plotted over time. Two-way scatterplots and linear regression were used to evaluate possible associations between daily median CT values and outbreak measures. Cross-correlation plots were used to determine whether a time delay existed between changes in daily median CT values and measures of community disease dynamics.

Results:

Daily median CT values negatively correlated with the daily Rt values (P<.001), the daily COVID-19 hospitalization counts (with a 33-day time delay; P<.001), and the daily changes in percent positivity among testing samples (P<.001). Despite visual trends suggesting time delays in the plots for median CT values and outbreak measures, a statistically significant delay was only detected between changes in median CT values and COVID-19 hospitalization counts (P<.001).

Conclusions:

This study adds to the literature by analyzing samples collected from an entire geographical area and contextualizing the results with other research investigating population CT values.